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Speakers at hearing call for natural-gas policy reforms

By , - Last modified: May 7, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Witnesses at a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing last week recommended tightening regulations on Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling.

Experts on water, air, the surface environment and public disclosure testified at the event Thursday at the Capitol, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, whose office provided a recap of the proceedings.

Gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, who served as Department of Environmental Protection secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, called for increasing DEP's oil and gas inspection staff by 50 percent and requiring emissions control to reduce air pollution by 90 percent.

The measures are part of Hanger's natural-gas policy platform, released last month.

Attorney Lauren Williams called for restoring local municipalities' zoning rights over the shale gas industry. Act 13, the natural-gas law passed in 2012, abrogated most local authority over drilling, reserving it to the state; a challenge to that part of the law is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Another witness, Jill Kriesky, associate director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, called for repealing Act 13's so-called gag order, which requires doctors to sign confidentiality agreements before learning the details of fracking chemicals.

Kriesky also called for establishing a state registry to track reports of people suffering health problems related to drilling.

Other witnesses said Pennsylvania needs to do more to protect public land from drilling. Democrats plan to introduce bills that would do so.

Though they were invited, industry representatives, DEP and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declined to attend, the Democrats said.

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